Sunday, July 19, 2015


Three current articles below

Australia tops the world for climate change skepticism

Nearly one in five Australians do not believe in climate change, making the country the worst in the world for climate sceptics, a study of almost 20,000 people has found.

The research by the University of Tasmania found 17 per cent of Australians thought climate change was not real, compared with 15 per cent of people in Norway, 13 per cent of New Zealanders and 12 per cent of Americans.

The study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, was based on data collected as part of the International Social Survey Programme in 2010 and 2011.

Researchers focused on 14 industrialised countries, including Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, New Zealand and the United States. In total, 19,991 people were surveyed.

It found the reasons for being a climate sceptic varied according to the political context of each country.

However, people across the board were more likely to be sceptics in countries that had high carbon emissions, and also more likely to be sceptics if their countries were vulnerable because of climate change.

In nine of the 14 countries, men were more likely than women to be sceptical about the danger of climate change.

Being politically conservative, male, and having a low level of concern for the environment were some indicators shared internationally that predicted whether people were more likely to be climate sceptics.

But the study also challenged some notions of climate scepticism, finding a modest number of people who reject climate science around the world were well-informed.

"Despite the findings of climate scientists, the proportions of climate sceptics appear to be increasing in many countries," the study said.

The reasons for this were varied and complex and warranted further investigation.

"Fruitful explanations of scepticism must ... account for the way in which partisans are influenced by their political leaders.

"Integrating such accounts may provide a way to both understand and address the social problem of climate scepticism."

The study surveyed 1946 respondents from Australia and was designed to be nationally representative.

In Australia, where views on climate change were described as "entrenched", or socially embedded, those who identified with left-leaning political parties were more likely than supporters of right-leaning parties to believe climate change is dangerous for the environment.

Highly educated people and those who lived in a large city were also less likely to be climate sceptics.


The journal abstract:

Despite the findings of climate scientists, the proportions of climate sceptics appear to be increasing in many countries. We model social and political background, value orientations and the influence of CO2 emissions per capita and vulnerability to climate change upon climate scepticism, drawing upon data from the International Social Survey Programme. Substantial differences in the levels of climate scepticism are apparent between nations.

Yet cross national data show that climate sceptics are not merely the mirror image of environmentalists. Typical predictors of environmental issue concern, such as education level, postmaterial value orientations and age are poor predictors of climate scepticism.

Affiliation with conservative political parties, gender, being unconcerned about ‘the environment’ or having little trust in government are consistent predictors of scepticism. Climate change scepticism is also correlated positively with CO2 emissions and vulnerability to climate change.

While high levels of scepticism have been documented among citizens of the United States, scepticism is as high or higher in countries such as Australia, Norway and New Zealand.


Australian Federal minister Takes To Twitter To Threaten Green Groups Will Lose Their Charity Status

Federal Queensland Liberal-National Party politician George Christensen has issued what appears to be a veiled threat to non-government organisations to “get the donations in” before a committee he sits on strips environmental charities of their tax-exempt status.

Yesterday, the National Party Deputy Whip grilled environmental groups in the first of a series of public hearings which the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment will stage as it considers whether to strip environmental organisations from receiving tax-free donations.

The Queensland Minerals Council - which has allied itself to Christensen in the debate over how huge new coal mines in the Galilee Basin will affect the Great Barrier Reef - appeared first, yesterday morning.

Then Christensen turned his attention to environmental groups, who he described as “morons” during a technical exchange over whether land should be considered to be part of the Great Barrier Reef’s ecosystem.

Felicity Wishart from the Australian Marine Conservation Society was interrogated by the Queensland MP, whose electorate takes in a swathe of coastline adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef.

“He was questioning me about our commitment to accurate information that wasn’t misleading and then trying to grasp at straws and find something that we had done that was misleading,” Wishart told New Matilda.

The Marine Conservation Society had used an image in its campaign material which superimposed a ‘grab dredger’ over the Calley Valley Wetlands and an image of Abbot Point Port, 25km north of Bowen.

Reportedly, Christensen’s main gripes were that the wetlands are ‘not part of the reef’, and the type of dredge to be used for the Abbot Point Port expansion was ‘suction dredger’, not a ‘grab dredger’.

While maintaining the wetlands are an important part of the reef’s ecosystem, Wishart said that the image of a grab dredger was a metaphor for the “one million cubic metres of dredge spoil… that was to be dumped on the wetlands” under previous plans.

After grilling Wishart about the integrity of her organisation’s campaigning, Christensen took to Twitter insisting “they were caught out fibbing, and the committee will sort these sort of lies out”.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society denounced Christensen for “unparliamentary” behaviour, accusing him of “announcing the outcome of the inquiry before it has concluded”, but Christensen said he was “just reading the tea leaves”.

Christensen has previously attacked “gutless green grubs” and “eco-terrorists” for campaigning to win more stringent protections for the reef and battling against an increase in Queensland’s coal exports, which would pump out emissions roughly equal to those created by the United Kingdom, South Africa, or Italy.

The Member for Dawson, who has questioned widely accepted understandings of climate science, has a history of Tweet-controversy. Last month he was forced into an apology over comments linking the American right to bear arms with a recent court decision which legalised marriage equality across the US.

Yesterday, at the inquiry, groups like the AMCS got the distinct impression Christensen was pressing the gun harder to their temples.

“This sounds very much like a government member of the Inquiry threatening environment groups who have been vocal about issues like dredging, dumping and increased shipping in the Reef’s waters,” said Wishart, who acts as a Great Barrier Reef Campaign Director.

In late March, Wishart’s work was singled out as part of a pack of “extreme greens” working for organisations like “Greenpeace, the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Friends of the Earth, Get Up, and the Environmental Defenders Office” who Christensen said “act like Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings”.

“That is treason,” Christensen told Parliament, “flying overseas and whispering in the ears of the decision-makers and diplomats who have anything to do with UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee, poisoning their minds on the state of the reef”.

“What treachery,” Christensen said, “to go against the interests of your own nation and your own people for no sound reason at all!”


Rare praise for conservative environment policy from the Australian Left

In a major break from convention, New Matilda brings you a positive story about an Abbott Government initiative.

The Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt will unveil “Australia’s first national strategy for threatened species” at a summit in Melbourne later today, along with new funding and a shortlist of the most at-risk bird species.

The plans have been cautiously welcomed by environmental groups, but they agree with Hunt that “we have to work harder” to turn back the nation’s shocking extinction rate.

As part of the announcement Hunt has unveiled a list of 12 Australian birds singled out for “priority action”. “I want to bring these birds back far enough from the brink to survive in the wild long-term,” Hunt said ahead of the summit yesterday.

The 12 birds, which are the frontrunners of a list of 20 birds to be decided after one year’s consultation with the community, include the Helmeted Honeyeater, Hooded Plover, Eastern Bristlebird, Regent Honeyeater, Mallee Emu-Wren, Plains-Wanderer, Night Parrot, Alligator Rivers Yellow Chat, Norfolk Island's Green Parrot and Boobook owl.

“Two more – the Orange-Bellied Parrot and Western Ground Parrot – will benefit from emergency interventions,” Hunt said.

In 2010, research indicated that the critically endangered Orange-Bellied Parrot had dwindled to a wild population of just 50 birds, and Hunt said the new strategy for threatened species would include an “emergency intervention” to help secure its future.

The parrot, which at around 200mm long is slightly larger than a budgerigar, breeds in Tasmania but wings its way to the mainland in Winter to forage in coastal salt marshes.

The critically endangered Western Ground Parrot is even smaller, at around 135-145mm, and the green, black-flecked, Western Australian native has been pushed to less than 140 individuals.

Hunt said the government is “committed to improving their fortunes within five years,” and that he “wants future generations to enjoy the colour, movement and song [the threatened birds] bring to our lives”.

He said the threatened species plan “will clearly set out what will happen by when, turning good intentions into clear and measurable targets”.

“The recovery of 20 bird species by 2020 is one such target.”

New South Wales government projects to protect two of the 12 species will also get a boost of federal funds, with Hunt promising a cumulative $140,000 to help conserve the plains-wanderers of the Riverina and the south coast’s Hooded-Plover.

Hunt said “it is possible to recover birds at risk of extinction because we have access to high quality science and can act in partnership with the community and other governments,” but a number of environmental groups have used the Threatened Species Summit in Melbourne to sound the alarm over a proposed government reform.



Australian maths students do well in 56th International Mathematical Olympiad

Aussie team comes 6th and achieves our highest global ranking ever.  Amusing and unsurprising that 3 out of 5 top scorers were Asian

Australia won two Gold and four Silver medals coming sixth (out of 104 teams) at the 2015 International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), which concluded this week in Thailand.  In our best result in 35 years of competing, our team improved Australia’s ranking from 11th last year to 6th position surpassing such highly rated teams as Taiwan, the Russian Federation, Japan, Ukraine and Singapore.

Competing with 577 contestants from 104 countries, multi-medallist Alex Gunning scored Gold and was ranked fourth in the world.  After tying for first place with a perfect score last year, he has a total of three Gold medals and a Bronze and now appears on the IMO Hall of Fame leader board.

In his third IMO, 16 year-old Seyoon Ragavan was awarded Gold this year for his 19th place, adding this to his two Bronze medals. All four other team members scored Silver: Yang Song at his second Olympiad, and Jeremy Yip, Kevin Xian and Ilia Kucherov on their first attempt.  More results can be seen at

Team members are first identified by the annual Australian Mathematics Competition (AMC) sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank. This year’s AMC will be held on 30 July. Success in AMC leads talented students like these into the Australian Mathematics Trust’s Olympiad training program.

Adjunct Professor Mike Clapper, Executive Director of the Australian Mathematics Trust said, ‘At a time when maths education in particular is a concern in Australia, the outstanding achievements of these students are inspirational. They are indicative of the enormous talent and capabilities of our young people. They have repeated and exceeded last year’s extraordinary results’.

Hosted by a different country each year, the annual UNESCO-sanctioned IMO is the pinnacle of competition between students of pre-university level around the world and the premier international competition in mathematics for secondary school students. It began in 1959 and is the oldest, largest and most prestigious of the International Science Olympiads.

Press release

Co-payment debacle reflections

The Abbott government's Medicare co-payment proposal prompted the organised medical profession to wage a political campaign that helped drive a first-term Prime Minister to the brink of the sack by his party. It now appears any reform that interferes with the sacred cow of Medicare is the third rail of Australian politics, given the vested interests vehemently opposed to change.

The more positive interpretation is that for any reform proposal to be credible, it must be informed by a viable political strategy.

When the federal opposition railed against the 'GP Tax' it said more than intended. Medicare is one of the most obvious ways people get their taxes back. This is the entitlement mentality in action - those forced to put so much of their income into the pot seek every opportunity possible to take out as much as possible.

The rejection of the co-payment should be interpreted as an expression of dissatisfaction with the size of government and indeed as a rejection of another 'tax'. It wasn't the exercise of the nation's collective social conscience that killed the copayment, but the flexing of the hip pocket nerve. The implications for politically feasible health reform are important, and suggest the clear winners out of the process have to be taxpayers.

The arguments for health reform need to serve the public interest in the direction of sustainable funding for necessary public health services and the maintenance of the public finances. These are cerebral arguments that appeal to the senses located above our necks. But in politics, it is the emotions existing between the neck and knees that usually determine outcomes, emotions that often centre somewhere around people's wallets.

This is part of the political logic behind the plan for a Medicare opt-out Health Savings Account (HSA) system devised by me and CIS Senior Fellow, David Gadiel.

Among other important things, cashing out Medicare entitlements and depositing the annual proceeds in a HSA would be good for the health of people's wallets. HSAs are a more efficient way to finance health care, and individuals would benefit as the savings accumulated from more cost-effective health care would ultimately be added to superannuation balances and fund higher retirement incomes.

I make no apologies for trying to beat the entitlement mentality -- which helps prop up big government welfare programs like Medicare -- at its own game. The only way to achieve major structural health reform is to build a coalition of the willing in favour of change with sufficient political punch to overcome the vested interests in the sector that stymie innovation.


No comments: